Caponata, a classic Sicilian dish, consists of diced eggplant and veggies in a olive and caper sweet and sour sauce. Eggplant Caponata can be served as-is or on top of sliced crusty bread.
Thank you to everyone for the kind feedback regarding last week’s post about my digital culinary tour! In case you missed it, I’ve started a new series here on the blog. Over the next several months, we’ll be exploring the original dishes from Italy. That’s right — no lasagna or ziti here (well, maybe haha). I wanted to spend time getting to know the traditional dishes that are served in each region.
Last week I shared the recipe for Pasta alla Norma, which is a staple in Sicily. Today we’re diving into another dish well known in Sicily: Caponata. It’s also another eggplant-centric dish. I had no idea how much eggplant is used in Italy! They do look different than the eggplants sold here in the US. In Italy, eggplants are oblong and skinny. Here, they’re short and plump. If you’ve ever tried the Italy variety, please let me know if there is a big taste difference!
Caponata is a sweet and sour sticky vegetable dish comprised primarily of eggplant and a few other vegetables. The addition of vinegar, capers and olives is what makes it sour, and the addition of sugar makes it sweet. Caponata is cooked down until most of the liquid is gone, which makes it perfect for topping sliced bread.
Today, caponata is typically used as an appetizer or as a side dish for fish, but since the 1700’s, it’s also been used as a main course. It’s certainly hearty enough!
Let’s talk about the main ingredients in Eggplant Caponata:
- Eggplant: You’ll want to choose a large, firm eggplant for this recipe. It’s the star of the show! The eggplant gets roasted in the oven until the flesh can be easily scooped out. It doesn’t matter if it retains it’s shape or not– it’s going to break down in the skillet and combine with all of the other ingredients.
- Aromatics: Onion, garlic, celery and red bell pepper join the eggplant in the skillet and get cooked down until basically falling apart. The red bell pepper is what gives this dish that beautiful bright red color.
- Tomatoes: You’ll use crushed tomatoes in this recipe for the convenience that they’re already broken down for you. They’ll continue to break down when they’re cooked alongside the other veggies.
- Capers: Big news – before this recipe, I had never cooked with capers. I’ve had them in a few dishes here and there but never went out of my way to buy them. Capers are actually flower buds that have been pickled and salted. They’re very common in Mediterranean dishes and add a wonderful salty and tangy flavor to the dish. Nothing to be afraid of!
- Green olives: Another salty and tangy component are green olives. Make sure to buy pitted olives — don’t make the mistake of buying olives with pits and then spending hours trying to get the pits out!
- White sugar: It seems odd to add sugar to a vegetable dish, but I promise it’s worth it and you definitely don’t want to skip it. White sugar will add that touch of sweetness to balance out the sour components of this dish.
- White wine vinegar: The final sour component! A splash of white wine vinegar is perfect to complete the sweet and sour balance.
After everything is combined in a large pot, you’ll let it cook down for about 30 minutes until it’s very thick. Traditionally, Caponata is served at room temperature. So once it’s done cooking, turn off the heat and let it sit for about 30 minutes before serving. If you make this dish ahead of time and refrigerate, simply let sit for about 30 minutes out of the fridge before serving.
I love this caponata spread on top of a thickly sliced baguette with a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan. Caponata is perfect to serve as an appetizer for your next dinner party or get together!
I had so much fun re-creating this classic Italian dish. I hope you’ll give it a try!
Here’s the recipe for Sicilian Eggplant Caponata:
Sicilian Eggplant Caponata
Caponata, a classic Sicilian dish, consists of diced eggplant and veggies in a olive and caper sweet and sour sauce. Caponata can be served as-is or on top of sliced bread.
- 1 large eggplant
- 2 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 white onion, diced small
- 2 stalks of celery, diced small
- 1 red bell pepper, diced small
- 2 tsp minced garlic
- 1 15-oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp capers
- 2 Tbsp green olives, pitted and minced
- 2 Tbsp white sugar
- 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- french baguette for serving
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese for serving
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees F.
Cut the eggplant in half and use a sharp knife to score down the middle (do not cut directly through the eggplant). Place flesh side down onto a baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes.
In a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil, onion, celery, red bell pepper and garlic. Sautee until the vegetables are tender, about 5-7 minutes.
Scoop out the roasted eggplant from it's skin and dice into small pieces. Add to the skillet along with the garlic.
Add the can of crushed tomatoes and the salt and stir well. Cook on medium-low for about 10 minutes, until the tomato juices begin to cook off.
Add the capers, olives, sugar, and white wine vinegar. Let simmer on low for about 30 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture is very thick. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.
To serve, add a spoonful of caponata to a slice of baguette and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!
Hi! I’m Emily, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and self-taught intuitive chef. I firmly believe that cooking is the simplest and most important step we can take to improve our minds and bodies and build healthier communities. Join me and let’s bring food back to the kitchen!